You Don’t Scare Me

Hey joonies,

Sorry we’ve been a little more MIA than usual.  October and November tend to be my busiest months at work than the rest of the year.  I love my job, but it really took me awhile to get there.  It took me time to be able to adjust and get comfortable with people.

Despite being outspoken and blunt, I have a tendency to start out shy with people I don’t know.  My potty mouth is reserved for friends only and the tattoo-ed, women’s rights advocate, and proud Iranian side of me are usually put away when I first start a new job.

My philosophy: you never know how people are going to react – better to start out observing than to be sorry in the end.

Clarification: I will never apologize for who I am.  But in order to be professional, you have to choose what parts of your personality you should highlight in the workplace.

My resume is dominated by my experience in Middle East studies.  In college, I went from one journalism internship to the next.  After college, every professional experience I’ve had is related to Iran or Middle East in general.  In fact, I only moved to D.C. to pursue an internship in Iranian politics.

By graffiti artist A1one in Tehran

When I began to apply for a permanent job – my dad said, “Farrah, you should erase all of your Iran experience from your resume because you will be discriminated against when employers look at your resume.”

My first reaction — Fuck that, I love the experience I’ve had and if some employer is going to discriminate against me for it then I don’t want to work there anyway.

My second reaction — Shit, if I erase all of that from my resume, I’m basically left with my college degree.

So I refused.  I didn’t talk to my dad about the lack of calls I got from the many jobs I applied to.  I didn’t talk to my dad about my struggles with finding a job.  Instead, I lied to my dad about getting another unpaid internship in D.C. focusing on Middle East democracy and told him that I was working temporarily elsewhere.

And when I finally got an interview with the current organization I work for, I didn’t tell my parents until after I had the confirmation email that I got the job.

I learned something valuable from the first interview at my job and my first year there.  My experiences at work have only reaffirmed what I’ve always believed in:

Don’t apologize for your culture or your background.  It’s what sets you apart.  It’s what makes you unique and it gives you an advantage.

Persepolis in the winter *not me in this pic*

While I kept my “true self” pretty quiet my first few months at work — it didn’t stop people from labeling me as the Persian girl.  And it was until my boss told me that it was because of my experience in Iranian studies that she knew she would hire me before even interviewing me – that I finally began to feel comfortable with myself in the workplace.

*My boss is not Iranian.  I’m the only Iranian in my department.  

It was until I spoke up and said, “Hey I’ve been to Iran and I’ve studied it — I know what I’m talking about” that people finally trusted me at work to research issues related to Iran politics.  It took for me to speak up and be myself to be given more opportunities.

My dad always said, “I don’t want people at work to label you as an Iranian.”

But, being Iranian is who I am.  It’s the part of my identity that defines me the most.

And I refuse to hide it.  I think if someone is going to discriminate against you because you were born into something and you’re proud then they are the ones with the real problems.  Unfortunately, we live in a time where ignorance of the Middle East is probably more common than an STD.  Additionally, U.S. relations with the Middle East specifically Iran, is the forefront issue of foreign policy today.

With talk of war everyday and the presidential debates (tomorrow night) that will likely focus foreign policy questions on whether we will support Israel and wage war against Iran — it is up to people who know what it’s really like there to speak up and remind people here what war would really mean.

Never forget — Iran isn’t free like the U.S.  While people here have the choice of joining the military, men in Iran are required to serve for two years regardless of if their loyalties are with the regime or not.

The Iran-Iraq war

Iranians don’t have the manpower to rise against the government and fight because in 2009, all the outspoken political people/leaders were put in jail or killed.  The fear that was instilled in 2009 by the regime still resonates among the people.  That doesn’t make them weak, it just means that they feel a lack of support.

During the 2009 protests, all coverage stopped of the protests in Iran to cover the death of Michael Jackson.  For days, I couldn’t find any news agency reporting on what was happening in Iran because everyone wanted to know whether Michael Jackson was murdered.  Why is one person’s death more important than the death of 100’s? Because he’s a music icon?

Being Muslim doesn’t make you a criminal.  And while I don’t believe in Islam, I will stand up for people’s right to believe in whatever religion (or lack of) that they wish.

I’m really lucky that my heritage hasn’t kept me from opportunities in the workplace – and I know that not everyone is fortunate enough to have that experience, but it shouldn’t stop people from being outspoken.

If Iranians aren’t proud of who they are — no one else is going to do it for us.

At the end of the day, no one really knows what it’s like to be Iranian or what Iran is really like except for those of us who have grown up with it.  You shouldn’t be afraid of being discriminated against.  Instead – it should motivate you to educate.  I’ve dealt with some pretty shitty treatment from people who find out that I am Iranian, but I don’t let it silence me.

Neither should you.






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  1. Indeed it’s tremendous and outstanding piece :)
    May you enjoy your job in peace and prosperity.

  2. Great op-ed. I second your views.

  3. this is amazing. I really relate to this because I’m also a Middle Eastern Studies major and am super interested in working for think tanks or internships in DC. Also, I wouldn’t want to be discriminated against for what I am passionate about.

  4. I love this – I’m Iranian American majoring in Political Science AND Middle Eastern Studies and I’m really worried about the discrimination I might face (I already face it in the classroom at times) but this article has reminded me to continue with what I want to study and to keep repping for our people in this country. My dad also tells me to hide everything about my Iranianness to people, but like you, I find myself not being able to.
    Thank you for writing this!

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